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How Runts Were a Product of Willy Wonka's Corporate Imagination

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The movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory did more than give kids nearly two hours of pure imagination—it launched a candy brand that’s produced unusual, scrumdiddilyumptious sweets like Runts.

In 1969, director Mel Stuart was given a lofty request from his daughter—turning her dogeared copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into a vivid, full-scale production. Stuart jumped on the idea, and he paid his daughter a $50 reward, plus a one-line spot in the film.

Stuart teamed up with film producer David Wolper to bring the idea to the big screen, but the two knew that the eccentric script idea would need strong financial backing. Wolper approached Quaker Oats with the idea of financing the film, and the food company snapped up the offer with intentions of a product spin-off—candy bars. (Stuart later called this deal one of the first and "most revolutionary of the product tie-ins that would become standard with studio movies.”)

But, Quaker Oats may have landed a rough deal, because its chocolate bar project never made it to retailers. The oatmeal empire paid $3 million for Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, but it could never nail down a perfect chocolate recipe for its candy bar. However, so as not to completely miss out on the candy bar craze after the film’s launch in 1971, Quaker Oats did market a kit for homemade chocolates.

Quaker Oats utilized its Chicago-based candy company, Breaker Confections, to roll out two other candies around the film’s release under the Willy Wonka brand: Peanut Butter Oompas (peanut butter and chocolate drops covered in candy) and the Peanut Butter Super Skrunch (a peanut butter and crisp rice bar).

With some success under its belt, the Willy Wonka brand took advantage of its fictional namesake’s quirks and began rolling out never-before seen candies, like Laffy Taffy and Everlasting Gobstoppers.

By 1980, Breaker Confections officially took on the Willy Wonka Candy Company name. Two years later, it launched Runts: small, fruit-shaped candy in five flavors: cherry, strawberry, orange, lime and banana.

Nestlé went on to acquire the candy company (simply renamed Wonka) in 1988, but Runts stayed on the production line unlike some other early Wonka originals. Flavors have evolved since the 1980s, introducing new fruits like pineapple and mango and nixing lime. For some time, Tropical Runts and Rock’n Runts made their ways into the candy aisle, featuring watermelon, lemon and raspberry candies.

The newest Runts lineup keeps some oldies—banana, orange, and strawberry—while adding the newer grape and green apple.

These small, hard-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside bites spun off their own candy idea for Bananarama—boxes of only banana Runts. Though, if you’re under the impression that the banana flavor is the best because of its solo status, there’s a slew of people who think the tiny, yellow candies are the worst. But, with Runts’ track record, another bite-sized flavor may just be on the cusp of Wonka's imagination.

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Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
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“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.

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The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]


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